There's just something about conference tournaments that drives me crazy. I don't know if it's the fact that the #1 seed hardly ever wins it or that the highly rated teams don't seem to hunger for the title since they know they'll be making the NCAA field regardless.
This year there are only 3 teams that will be getting at large NCAA tournament berths. They are Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. Then there are a bunch of teams trying to prove that they belong. The likes of Michigan, Purdue, and Iowa are scratching and clawing for their tournament lives. And then there's Northwestern. A horrible overall record and average Big 10 record. However, I can see them winning this years tournament. After all, they do have the Big 10 Coach of the Year leading them don't they Illini fans?
1st Round Matchups:
#8 Indiana vs. #9Ohio State- The Hoosiers will have the crowd but do they have the team to make a run in this years tournament? I'm saying no this time. This is a poorly operated team ranging from the coach to the players. They have legit players in George Leach and Bracey Wright but that's about it. I'm sure A.J. Moye will make some sort of splash in this years tournament too. After watching Ohio State play Illinois close I thought maybe I'd take the Buckeyes in this matchup. But they had everything to play for in the game against the Illini. The role of spoiler is much easier on a team. I'm taking the Hoosiers in this one although it's painful to do.
#7 Purdue vs. #10 Minnesota- Kris Humphries is one of the best Freshman I've ever seen play college hoops. But he's not enough to carry this Golden Gopher team to a victory against a hard nosed Boilermaker squad desperately trying to make the NCAA's. The senior leadership of Kenneth Lowe will lead Purdue to an opening round victory.
#6 Northwestern vs. #11 Penn State- Who would have guessed the Wildcats would be the 6 seed this year. They have excellent guard play and excellent 3 point shooters. The only thing they're really lacking is a low post banger and depth. Penn State is just not good. Northwestern wins this one easily.
#8 Indiana vs. #9 Illinois- In what many consider the turning point of the season, Illinois went on the road and squeaked out a victory at the other Assembly Hall. This one won't be so close. Illinois is on a mission and I can't see them laying an egg in the opening round. Coach Weber and his players are too hungry and still have that willingness to prove they're legit.
#4 Iowa vs. #5 Michigan- Trying to predict what these two teams are going to do is impossible. One minute they look like they can beat anyone in the conference and the next minute they look like the #11 seed. Iowa is coming off a huge win at Purdue and Michigan is coming off a big win at Northwestern. Both victories coming on Senior Day. Michigan's depth overcomes the Hawkeyes in this one. They both like to run and gun and the Wolverines have more players to do that with.
#2 Wisconsin vs. #7 Purdue- An extremely tough opening round opponent for the Badgers. Wisconsin has not always been so good on the road and Purdue has got to be fuming over all the close losses they've faced this year. They'll stick Kenneth Lowe on Devin Harris and hope for the best. I smell an upset in this one. Boilers over Bucky Badger.
#3 Michigan St. vs. #6 Northwestern- Tom Izzo's club is usually very good in a tournament type setting. They've had the longest layoff of any team so they should come hungry to play. Northwestern will frustrate them the whole time as the Wildcats get lots of steals and MSU is a team with no point guard. However the Spartans are extremely athletic and dangerous and will take this one in a close battle.
#1 Illinois vs. #5 Michigan- The Illinois guards are a menace to any team, especially Michigan. Horton and Harris are not the best defenders and would rather concentrate on scoring. Not a good choice when playing Illinois. Michigan has the inside presence to create some problems but not enough to dethrone the defending champs.
#7 Purdue vs. #3 Michigan St.- Purdue smells blood in this one. The Spartans will be coming off a close one against Northwestern and eager to hit the floor. But Purdue will have the confidence in knocking off Wisconsin and perform the upset special in this one. MSU has been too inconsistent all year and Purdue has lost too many close games to let another one slip away.
BIG 10 TITLE GAME
#1 Illinois vs. #7 Purdue- Keady vs. Weber again. The rematch of the overtime thriller in West Lafayette. Who will win this battle? In a last minute effort Coach Keady asks Coach Weber to feel sorry for him and let him win this one so his team can make the NCAA's. Weber says no thanks Gene. There will be no chest thumping from David Teague in this one. Illinois clearly wants to play at the highest level heading into the tournament and don't want anything getting in the way of their win streak. The Illini become the Big 10 regular season and conference tournament champions in another close battle with Purdue. There won't be a Luther Head last second shot this time though.